Hunting for Water in Bankoualé

Quick link: Letter from Bankoualé


Today I have an article over at EthnoTraveler about the time my family went on the search for a rumored waterfall in Djibouti. We saw many fascinating things, including a man the owners of the encampment where we slept called “Jesus.” Did we find water?

I heard a rumor that there was a waterfall in Bankoulé, a village in northern Djibouti. Because the entire country averages 6.5 inches of rain annually, the image of water pouring over rocks with enough volume and force to create a waterfall compelled me to visit Bankoulé with my family.

The village is 45 kilometers from the coastal city Tadjourah, the largest city in northern Djibouti and requires a rugged 4X4 to reach it. A single sign pointed in the direction of the village, or used to, before the paint faded and the sign tipped over. Now there was only a fork in the road. I took the path that veered away from a village called Randa and hoped it was the right guess.

We inched around boulders and over tree roots and kept repeating out loud that this had to be the road. After all there was no other road and we knew Bankoulé wasn’t an imaginary place. At one point the path went over such a steep hill with such an abrupt drop off that I couldn’t see the road below and had to trust that rocks or dirt or something would catch the vehicle as it crested the hill.

After ninety migraine-inducing minutes, we reached the tourist encampment, about a kilometer after the actual village, and stumbled out of the car, our legs wobbly as they tested out the firm, smooth ground after the intense bouncing and vibrating of the trek to get here.

Rusted-out pickup trucks, heaps of trash, and empty gas cans tipped on their sides littered the parking lot. A narrow walkway led from the parking lot to an outdoor, roofed eating area, and a dozen huts, each equipped with beds, lanterns, and mosquito nets. A few bangles of silver tinsel were tacked to the walls of the eating area for decoration and seemed incongruous dangling next to a tusbah, a string of Islamic prayer beads.

After dumping our belongings in the huts and drinking steaming tea, we prepared to hike to the waterfall. I wasn’t sure what we would find and tried to keep my expectations low. I’ve been to Niagara Falls, I’ve canoed on the Mississippi, I come from Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes, I grew up with a river in my backyard. I love running water. And I have lived in Djibouti for twelve years. I know how little water there is in the desert, how unlikely it is to fall in substantial cascades.

Click here to read the rest of Letter from Bankoualé